Zechariah Overview: Israel's Return and God's Return

9th Century Prophets 8th Century Prophets 7th Century Prophets Exilic Prophets Post-exilic Prophets
Obadiah
Joel
Amos
Hosea
Jonah
Isaiah
Micah
Nahum
Zephaniah
Habakkuk
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Daniel
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi

Introduction

1. Name

The book is named after its prophetic author, whose name means “Yahweh Remembers.”

2. Theme

Return to God for blessing.

3. Purpose

To encourage belief in Zechariah’s predictions not only of trials, but also of the great blessings for Jerusalem when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1508.[/footnote]

4. Key verses

Return to me and I will return to you (Zech.1:3).

5. Key truths

• God offered wonderful blessings to his people after exile through Zerubbabel, the son of David, and through Joshua, the high priest.
• Despite the failures of those who returned from exile, God would not fail to complete his promises.
• God has all power to defeat his enemies and will do so one day.
• A final battle will bring ultimate victory to God’s people.[footnote]Ibid., 1508.[/footnote]

 

I. Author

At least thirty individuals in Scripture were called Zechariah. The prophet was the son of Berechiah the son of Iddo (Zech.1:1, 7). Probably this Iddo is to be identified with the Levitical Iddo who returned to Palestine when the Jewish exiles returned under Zerubbabel (Neh.12:1, 4, 16). If so, it would follow that Zechariah was a priest and, so, to be identified with the Zechariah of Nehemiah 12:16. Zechariah’s ministry began two months after that of Haggai, although Haggai tended to focus on the actual work required whereas Zechariah was more concerned with the manner and attitude of the people as they worked.

Zechariah has been called “the temple builder” and “the seer.” Patterson referred to this prophet as “the idealist” while Ward branded him “the enthusiast.” Since such a large part of his book centres on eight visions which he received in one night Zechariah might appropriately be called “the prophet of night visions.”[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

 

II. Date

1. Traditional View

Haggai had been preaching in Judea since August 29th 520 BC, when Zechariah joined him sometime in October or November of that same year (Zech.1:1). The last dated message in the book is December 4th 516 BC. No doubt he lived to see the temple rebuilt and dedicated (March 12th 515 BC).

His ministry, however, probably continued much longer. The references to Greece (Zech.9:13) would fit a time when the Persians were defeated in their attempted invasions of Greece in 490 and 480 BC. He would have seen Greece rising steadily on the horizon as a potential enemy of his people.

2. Critical View

Liberal critics have challenged the unity and dating of Zechariah. Some have argued for a pre-exilic date for chapters 9-14 and others argue for a post-Alexandrian date (210-140 BC).

a. Reasons

The three main reasons behind the critical theories are:

i. The subject matter in 1-8 and 9-14 is quite different. Chapters 1-8 deal primarily with rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem, whereas chapters 9-14 focus on the distant future.

ii. Vocabulary and style are very different in the two sections.

iii. Zechariah 9:13 mentions Greece, which was not a major power until after Zechariah’s days.

b. Refutation

i. Prophets often wrote about a variety of topics. Moreover, the Book of Zechariah’s structure resembles other biblical apocalyptic writings. The book opens with a historical frame of reference and then moves into a more universal picture of God’s work in the world (cf. Dan.1-6 and Dan.7-12; Rev.1-3 and Rev.4-22).

If a modern author carefully arranges his material into various groups by subject or literary form, we ordinarily consider this to be evidence of an orderly mind at work and do not feel compelled to suggest the material must be from different individuals. In the same way, if an ancient author separates material by literary form (vision, oracle), subject (immediate issues vs. distant), or other criteria (e.g., dated versus undated), this would seem from our Western vantage the actions of a rational, orderly person. These items scarcely in themselves provide an argument for multiple authorship unless one implicitly adheres to a rather foolish notion that any one author will write only one kind of literature.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 430.[/footnote]

ii. Different topics naturally require different vocabulary and style. Moreover, prophets sometimes varied their styles for a specific purpose.

iii. Greece was becoming a major power during Zechariah’s lifetime, especially during Zechariah’s later years. Perhaps Zechariah wrote chapters 9-14 later in his life. We also should not rule out the possibility of predictive prophecy. God knows the future and can reveal it to his prophets.

3. Unity

The book shows similar thematic and stylistic features in both sections of the book.

a. Thematic Unity

i. Jerusalem is central (Zech.1:12-16; 2:1-13; 9:8-10; 12:1-13; 14:1-21)

ii. The cleansing of the community (Zech.3:1-9; 5:1-11; 10:9; 12:10; 13:1-2; 14:20—21)

iii. The Gentiles place in the kingdom (Zech.2:11; 8:20-23; 9:7, 10; 14:16-19)

iv. Renewed fertility (Zech.8:12; 14:8)

v. Covenant renewal (Zech.8:8; 13:9)

vi. Regathering of the exiles (Zech.2:6; 8:7; 10:9—10)

vii. Outpouring of the Spirit (Zech.4:6; 12:10)

viii. The Messiah (Zech.3:8; 4:6; 9:9—10).

b. Stylistic Unity

i. “Saith Jehovah” occurs fourteen times in the first part and six times in the second (Zech.10:12; 12:1, 4; 13:2, 7, 8).

ii. “The eyes of Jehovah,” is found twice in both sections (Zech.4:10; 8:6; 9:8).

iii. “Lord of hosts” is found three times in both sections.

iv. The verb yāšab , “to dwell,” in the rare and special sense of “be inhabited” is found twice both sections.

It should be noted that those who reject the Zecharian authorship of chs. 9-14 have not been able to agree upon an alternate theory of composition. On the one hand we have been told that chs. 9-14 were a unit, and either pre- or post-exilic, but not from Zechariah. On the other, chs. 9-11 have been said to come from the 8th cent. and chs. 12-14 from about the beginning of the 6th cent., or else from the period of the Diadochi or even the Maccabees. Others have placed all of chs. 9-14 in the 3rd and 2nd centuries and have regarded it as the work of an apocalyptic author who wrote in the vein of a pre-exilic prophet. Still others have divided the entire prophecy into four parts. This lack of agreement as to just what these disputed chapters are is of force in showing that a satisfactory alternative to Zecharian authorship has not been discovered.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 272-273.[/footnote]

 

III. Historical Analysis

1. Chronology

539-30 Cyrus’s Reign
538 Return under Zerubbabel
536 Foundation of Temple
536-20 Frustration sets in and construction is halted
520-516 (?) Haggai’s ministry
520-480 (?) Zechariah’s Ministry
[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Prophets (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]

2. Historical background (see Lecture 62).

Haggai highlighted the declining enthusiasm for Temple restoration, and Zechariah supported the hopeful message of his colleague.

Essentially the first eight chapters of Zechariah are taken up with issues of more immediate concern to the restoration community. These chapters reflect the historical background of the community early in the restoration period. The final six chapters, however, seem less oriented to issues of immediate concern; they include instead eschatological and apocalyptic imagery largely pertaining to a more distant future.

 

IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative outlines

J E Smith Pratt Murray

Message during the construction of the temple
(Zech.1-8)

Message after the completion of the temple
(Zech.9-14)

Prophecies of More Immediate Significance
(Zech.1:1-8:23)

Prophecies of More Future Significance
(Zech.9:1-14:20)

Israel’s return
(Zech.1:1-8:23)

God’s return
(Zech.9:1-14:20)

 

a. Israel’s Return (Zech.1:1-8:23)

Opening message (Zech.1:1-6)
The eight night visions (Zech.1:7-6:15)
The transformation of Jerusalem (Zech.7:1-8:23)

Zechariah explained the reasons for the exile and offered great heavenly blessings if Israel would turn from their sins and hypocrisies and trust in the Lord.

b. God’s return (Zech.9:1-14:20)

The anointed king rejected (Zech.9:1-11:17)
The rejected king enthroned (Zech.12:1-14:21)

Zechariah focused on the more distant future of the restored community and assured them of God’s faithfulness to His promises.

2. Style/Genre

There are certainly parts of Zechariah which would fit the definition of apocalyptic literature: visions, the presence of heavenly interpreters/angels, the use of highly symbolic language, progression from local scene to world scene, progression from point of time to end of time.

Zechariah contains a variety of literary forms. The visions of the first part are similar to those of Ezekiel and Daniel. The book is often taken as an example of early apocalyptic literature, and certainly methods and themes characteristic of such literature are in evidence. In chapter 14 a description is found of a final war against Jerusalem in which God comes as a victorious warrior to save his people from their enemies. Similarly the visions of the horsemen (Zech.1:7-17), the four chariots (Zech.6:1-8) and the woman in the basket (Zech.5:5-11) might also be viewed as early forms of apocalyptic literature.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1508.[/footnote]

 

V. Thematic Analysis

1. Two returns

The whole prophecy is summed up in the word of Zechariah 1:3: “Return to me and I will return to you.” Although the division of the book into Israel’s return and God’s return is not exact, it does reflect the general emphasis of the prophecy.

a. Israel’s return (Zech. 1-8)

Throughout the first section Israel are called to return to covenant obedience by threats of judgment and promises of restoration and renewal. Their covenant obedience was to be especially manifested in the rebuilding of the Temple.

b. God’s return (Zech. 9-14)

The last six chapters were written after the Temple had been rebuilt. Israel had obeyed and now God would come in blessing. He moves from Gentile domination to Messianic rule, from persecution to peace and from uncleanness to holiness. World history is represented in two parallel sections both beginning with “the burden of the Word of the Lord” (Zech.9:1; 12:1), which indicates at least an element of judgment.

In the first section (Zech.9:1-11:17) the emphasis is on destruction of the heathen world and Israel strengthened to subdue her enemies. Israel’s final triumph will be through a humble king (Zech.9:9). God will punish worthless shepherds and gather His own flock (Zech.10:3). The distinguishing features of good and bad shepherds are delineated (Zech.11:1-17).

In the second section (Zech.12:1-14:21) the emphasis is on the refining of Israel. Conflict with heathen will sift out those who really are God’s people. They will be characterised by true repentance (Zech.12:10-14). The Shepherd will be smitten and the sheep scattered but the Lord will re-gather His true sheep. War against Jerusalem (Zech.14:1-15) would be followed by a future international celebration of great blessings (Zech.14:16-21).

The last six chapters are not clearly tied to a specific historical situation in the life of the prophet but look forward to the events leading up to and including the coming messianic age. Here the rise of Greece, the advent and rejection of the Messiah, and the final triumph of the Messiah are foretold.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Within the prophetic expectation of Israel, the restoration fulfilled many of the promises of God to Israel; the place of the restoration community within the purpose and plan of God is largely the concern of chapters 1-8. The return was a new exodus, a new redemption – but it would not be the final redemption. Notwithstanding all that the return from the Exile represented, a yet fuller redemption was still ahead in the future; this complete redemption is largely the concern of chapters 9-14. Although the return from captivity involved many themes from the prophetic hopes of Israel, the return was only an inaugural and provisional stage in the ultimate redemption God would provide. The restoration from captivity was but a token and taste of the great redemption to come.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 436.[/footnote]

2. Eight visions (Zech.1:7-6:8)

Each of Zechariah’s night visions, with one exception, follows a general pattern. First, Zechariah describes what he sees. Second, he asks the heavenly messenger what the vision means. Third, he receives an interpretation from the heavenly messenger.

Vision Meaning
1. Man among the myrtle trees (Zech.1:7-17) God will restore and protect Jerusalem
2. Four horns and four craftsmen (Zech.1:18-21) The oppressors of God’s people (horns) will be destroyed by other nations (craftsmen)
3. Man with measuring line (Zech.2:1-13) God will expand Jerusalem and protect His people with His presence
4. High priest in clean garments (Zech.3:1-10) God will wipe away the sins of the priesthood and the people and restore Jerusalem as the centre of worship
5. Gold lampstand and two oil trees (Zech.4:1-14) Joshua and Zerubbabel will be empowered to complete the rebuilding
6. Flying scroll of judgment (Zech.5:1-4) God loves His people and His land but will punish covenant breakers
7. The woman in a basket (Zech.5:5-11) God will remove wickedness from the land
8. Four chariots and high priest (Zech.6:1-8) The heavenly war chariots will defend them from northern enemies and Messiah will be crowned king

3. The transformation of Jerusalem (Zech.7:1-8:23)

These chapters focus on Jerusalem’s present sinfulness in contrast to the future of the city. Two main topics come to the foreground: exposing continuing hypocrisy in their self-pitying fasts (Zech.7:1-14), and blessings in the future when their hypocrisy will be removed and the fasts will be changed into times of festival blessing (Zech.8:1-23).

4. Zechariah and Ezekiel

Like Ezekiel, Zechariah was both a priest and a prophet. Like Ezekiel he put the Temple and priesthood at the heart of the restoration program. Zechariah filled in much of the detail of Ezekiel. In fact he has been called the first commentator on Ezekiel. This is especially true of the last six chapters where he proclaimed the Messiah as King of kings.

The image of the shepherd-king has already been set forth by Ezekiel (Ez. 34:23–31; 37:24), and Zechariah mixes the hues of that imagery with those of the Suffering Servant to paint the portrait of the Messiah on his apocalyptic canvas. The gospel writers knew those precious phrases from Zechariah, and in them they heard the traumatic events of the passion of Christ expressed…In other vivid imagery, the holiness that distinguished the Temple precincts and the sacred vessels would be expanded into the common sphere of life. So thoroughly disseminated would be Temple holiness that any cooking vessel in Judah could be used for sacrificial purposes (Zech.14:20–21). Thus the logic of the centrality and prominence of the Temple, a critical issue in Zechariah, comes into focus. In the coming age the entire land would be purified and consecrated to the Lord in the same degree as vessels in the Lord’s House. The Temple, therefore, became in Zechariah’s view not only the centre of life in the new age but the standard by which the land would be purified.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

 

VI. New Testament Analysis

1. New Testament references

Zechariah 9-14 is the most frequently cited portion of the Old Testament in the Passion narratives and apart from Ezekiel, this book has exercised more influence than any other on the author of Revelation.

Theme Zechariah New Testament
Servant Zech.3:8 Mk.10:45
Branch Zech.3:8; 6:12 Lk.1:78
Stone Zech.3:9 Matt.21:42; 1Pet.2:6-8
King-priest Zech.6:13 Heb.6:20-7:1
Lowly King Zech.9:9-10 Mat.21:4-5; Jn.12:14-16
Betrayed Zech.11:12-13 Matt.27:9
Hands pierced Zech.12:10 Jn.19:37
Cleansing fountain Zech.13:1 Rev.1:5
Humanity and deity Zech.13:7; 6:12 Jn.8:40; 1:1
Smitten shepherd Zech.13:7-9 Matt.26:31; Mk.14:27
Second coming/coronation Zech.14:5,9 Jn.10:16; Rev.11:15; 21:27

Zechariah spoke both to Israel’s immediate future and to the distant future in Christ. As with most prophecies of Israel’s restoration after exile, the predictions he made had immediate significance for Zerubbabel the son of David, for Joshua the high priest and for Jerusalem. At the same time, however, Zerubbabel was only the continuance of, not the end of, the Davidic line. Joshua was also a continuance of the priestly line and was “symbolic of things to come” (Zech.3:8). As a result, what was said about Zerubbabel and Joshua anticipated what the final son of David, the Messiah, would one day accomplish in full measure.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1509.[/footnote]

 

VII. The Message of Zechariah

Original Message: If Israel returns to God in repentance, God will return to Israel in restoration.
Present Message: If the church returns to God in repentance, God will return to His Church in restoration.